Search Engine - Information Sources for Marketers.

'Information overload' is becoming one of the epidemics of the internet revolution. But with a little planning, it doesn't have to be that way, as T Bruce Tober discovers.

The world is awash with, some would say sinking under the weight of, online resources for every profession, craft and art one can conceive.

Marketing is no different, as Dell Computer's product PR manager, Annette Condon, comments: "We use online resources for competitive tracking into sites like Intel and Microsoft."

Dell does an enormous amount of business on the net, and is considered one of the most successful marketers of product sold over the net.

"We try to keep abreast of what's happening in the market place," says Information Hyperlink web marketing manager Caroline Tosswill. "We also watch the web as far as design and content are concerned. We use it for just about everything. All you need is three or four useful sites on the web and you can link from there to any other sites."

So after all the hype is over and done, what's really out there? For starters, there are newsgroups: discussion forums, open to all, nothing to do to join other than tell your software to download to your machine all messages in that newsgroup, read them for a few days to see if they suit your needs and to get a feel for who's who, then join in the discussions.

Two such groups are misc.business.marketing.moderated and alt.www.market ing. Of those, the former appears to be an excellent forum for questions and answers. The latter has a few good discussions, if you can wade through all the rubbish (adverts for MLM schemes and scams). Then there are email mailing lists.

Very similar to newsgroups, except you have to actually subscribe, by sending a message to the list owner asking to join, or go to the list's web site and subscribe there.

There are many mailing lists that deal specifically or peripherally with marketing, some of which include: Sales & Marketing Executives International Forum (www. smei.org/forum.html); BusinessNet (www. d.umn.edu/ rva idyan/ resource.html); Business Marketing Forum (www.vic .com/news/groups/ misc. business.html); Internet-Marketing Discussion List (www.i-m.com/); and Marketing Scientists' Dialogue (www.MARKTG.CBS. DK/dialogue.html).

And then there are the web sites, owned by marketing companies, associations, schools, magazines and others. But, as with so much on the internet, most of these sites are located in the States and are excruciatingly US-centric. But there are a few UK and European marketing sites including the Marketing Institute of Ireland (MII) (www. mii.ie/) and Strathclyde University's Department of Marketing (www.strath.ac.uk/Departments/Marketing/ Index(b).html).

The Strathclyde site mostly includes information about the school and its courses. However, there are also such publications as Journal of Marketing Management, edited by Michael J Baker, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, edited by Michael J Thomas, and the Journal of Marketing Communications, edited by Philip J Kitchen.

The MII site includes articles on 'current issues' as well as information about its graduate programme, a diary of coming events, seminars, etc, and links to a variety of other related sites.

John Williams, marketing manager AT&T (UK) Ltd's New Media and Entertainment Division says he deals "quite a bit with the net and software communities, so I check out various web pages, etc. There are some in the States that I use frequently. I generally use AltaVista because it indexes down at page level," he explains.

Search engines - AltaVista, Excite, Inference, HotBot, InfoSeek, etc - are databases of web sites and their contents. No need to get into the technical aspects of how they automatically catalogue all those millions of pages, but suffice it to say they allow users to enter key words or phrases and perform a search for those throughout their databases.

The resulting list of 'hits' can be quite daunting. Receiving literally tens of thousands of links is not unheard of in a search. To help ease that situation, most, if not all, of them allow users to make use of Boolean logic arguments. These are qualifiers - and, or, not, and near - which allow users to tailor their queries more specifically .

For example, you might want to find all sites discussing how to develop a top telemarketing script. Entering the word "telemarketing" brought up 12,206 hits on AltaVista recently. Using the advanced query with Boolean logic - "telemarketing near script" - narrowed this to 734 hits. These included such sites as: 1. "ANARCHY RULES by Douglas P. Lathrop - Ch. 6" of a novel; 2. "Links - Junk Email & Net Abuse"; 3. "Guiding Principles of Pointed Communications" - a marketing communications consulting company; 4. "NEIL - SALES TECHNIQUES Sales Techniques By Larry Borses"; 5. "JUNKBUSTERS"; and,6. "Australian Mailing Lists - millions of names on hundreds of lists".

Of the first six links, only three have any real potential in helping you find winning telemarketing scripts. "But, that's 50 per cent," you say. But consider the other four on that page of ten links, which were also non-starters, which brings the success rate down to 30 per cent.

The question then arises, how does one separate the junk from the good stuff online? Firstly, with web searches, you can further restrict your query. To do so you need to learn more about using the Boolean arguments.

The problem here is that each search engine site has a different methodology.

So, it's best to pick a favourite search engine, learn its query language well, and stick with it. Secondly, you can go to a directory site, rather than a search site, for example, Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) or UK Plus (www.ukplus.co.uk).

And thirdly , you can learn which resources to trust concerning the information they offer.

According to Williams, "there are some information resources that are respected in the real world and which I tend, therefore, to favour in the online world. I'm not conscious of applying different standards in cyberspace from than those I apply in the real world." Condon agrees: "I think the variety of information on the net is often more up-to-date and reliable. But I would treat it the same way as any other sources of information, somewhat sceptically."

Paul Waddington, marketing and communications director of Reuters, says, "Reuters Business Briefing (RBB) is available as a web service or a Windows application. It allows you to ask questions of a database to find background information on a company."

Users can also access 4,000 international publications (newspapers, trade journals, news wires). All articles are indexed so users can get stories about Corel, the company, rather than WordPerfect, the software, for example.

The service is also customisable so users can put together their own list of businesses and topics they wish to track and the publications they wish to track them in. RBB also incorporates share prices, company financial data, etc. Waddington did a survey and report last year on the potential for information overload. What he found, unsurprisingly, was that there is that potential.

"The paradox," says Waddington," is that people admit they have a problem coping with it, but almost two out of three said they need more. We're in a phase where we've not yet learnt to filter it. We're in an evolutionary stage, we need to develop new methodologies to cope with it. Information management will soon become as important as financial management."

Meanwhile, at Infotrade, director Mark Lofthouse says that the company's Portfolio service will provide the information and news on all stock market-listed companies. "So if you wanted to look at BT - the history of its share price, real time prices, acquisitions, other directors' dealings, etc - you can pull all that."

Asked about the reliability of its information, in that it's a relatively new company, Lofthouse added, "We're probably the only online service regulated by the Securities and Futures Authority."

Deborah Loth, executive creative director of Lowe Digital, explains, "There's a way for everyone around the information glut and that is to rely on the traditional intelligent human agent.

"Take the difference between Yahoo! and AltaVista," she adds. "AV has a certain comprehensiveness and you have to be very skilled researcher to find the information you require. Whereas Yahoo!, with its human researchers making sure information is correctly categorised, is often a much more helpful resource."

It's the human interaction which makes a directory different from a search engine, although to a great extent they do similar things, ie, find web sites containing information in which the user is interested. Search engines accomplish the goal in a totally automated manner.

Directories have people going to each site and cataloguing what they find. Ralph Averbuch is producer of Yahoo! UK and Ireland, "What's different about Yahoo!, as opposed to AltaVista, is we're a directory with a hierarchical structure. So when someone comes on to our site, they're not searching into every site on the web."

For example, if a person uses the Yahoo! service to look up something about a 'car', a list of categories relevant to car will be provided."We then break that down into useable chunks. No Boolean logic needed," adds Averbuch.

Yahoo! uses its categorisation to help define the search. "That's one of the reasons for our market dominance," says Averbuch. Typing in 'marketing' at Yahoo! provides the user with about 150 categories. Users then choose the relevant categories (UK, direct marketing, telemarketing, etc).

Yahoo! now has a personalised news and information push service, 'My Yahoo' (www.my.yahoo.com). Push technology is the latest buzz word. It refers to information which is automatically sent to the recipient, rather than their having to go and search it out.

Marketing people can customise the service to provide them with information they need from any of the Yahoo! services, such as all the stock prices of all competitors, the PR and PA business wires. And they can access the news ticker which can be running any time they're online. Information overload "is always a potential problem", Averbuch admits.

"What we're always trying to do is categorise and sub-categorise down to the most limited data set possible," he says. "We would hope that provides a manageable amount of information. If you're a UK or Irish user we also filter through those sites that are UK- and Irish-based, giving them priority; below that is a listing of all the others around the world."

So now you've checked out some of the web sites and joined a couple of discussion groups. What next? Well, if you're like most marketing professionals, you know the value of keeping abreast of the day's news, what the competition is doing, what new products or services have been launched in your area of interest. There is a variety of services for this research.

In push technology, other than My Yahoo!, one of the main players in the field is PointCast.

Colin Donald, editor of Flextech New Media, London recently set up an account with PointCast. It's very easy, he says: you choose what companies you're interested in through PointCast's set-up, and then they send you their press releases.

"You can track almost any US and a fair number of UK companies, too," he adds.

"There's still a lot of stuff coming through that I don't need. But with PointCast I can scan through headlines and go to what I need. You just have to be selective."



NEXT MONTH

Next month's Search Engine will feature Revolution 's definitive 1998 guide to marketing and new-media events. If your company is organising an event relevant to new-media marketers, send your company name, address, phone number, fax number and contact name to Revolution Editorial, 174 Hammersmith Rd, London W6 7JP.

Fax: 0171 413 4519.

Email: rlord@dial.pipex.com



CURBING INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Infotrade

www.infotrade.co.uk

Subsidiary of Mitsubishi Electric PC Division. Infotrade is "the only specialist provider of personal finance products online, direct to the customer". Many products are available across the internet, including motor, travel, and building and contents insurance.



Reuters Business Briefing

www.bizinfo.reuters.com/freetrial.html

Reuters claims it "will seek to exploit new and existing technologies to provide a customised enterprise-wide information service, tailored to organisations' specific requirements." This includes such industry-specific news as: Reuters Insurance Briefing, Reuters Advertising and Media Briefing, Reuters Headline service and Reuters EU Briefing.

"By providing business information solutions that fit the exact needs of organisations and individuals, Reuters hopes to play a significant role in the resolution of information overload."



Yahoo! UK and Ireland

www.yahoo.co.uk/

Directory site, favoured by many for its 'human touch' over search engines such as AltaVista. The UK/Ireland-specific address provides categories such as: Arts and Humanities (photography, theatre, and literature); Business and Economy (companies, investments, classifieds, and taxes); Computers and Internet (internet, www, software, and multimedia); Reference (libraries, dictionaries, and phone numbers); and, Social Science (anthropology, sociology, and economics).



NSNS/MouseTracks/ - Marketing Activities and Resources

www.nsns.com/Mouse Tracks/

This site includes not only an excellent list of internet mailing lists, but also essays on web marketing. Among the topics covered is Syllabits, a collection of course materials used in business instruction. This includes syllabuses, lectures homework, and bibliographies. The site also contains a newsgroup for marketers, and a comprehensive listing of marketing firms specialising in internet marketing.



Sharrow & Associates' Advertising and Marketing

www.sharrow.com

Another very good site. It is a bit eccentric and anarchic, but this is probably fine, when you consider that such a style tends to reflect the overwhelming nature of the internet in general. This site presents what it calls "a schizophrenic assemblage of interesting and often useful stuff presented by a remarkable yet otherwise modest organization." Included amongst those are: essays on organisational design for marketing departments; what database marketing is and why it's a good idea; effective sales management; and the use of sex as an advertising ploy. Don't miss the parodies of ads (even if they are American).



MoneyWorld UK Home Page

www.moneyworld.co.uk

An excellent UK-based site for news, features, its own personal finance guides, and more.



CompuServe/MAID plc

www.compuserve.co.uk

www.maid.com

This service will be available to CompuServe users, courtesy of MAID plc's business resources. It will use MAID's 'Infosort' indexing mechanism, which, it says, enables users to "set personal profiles and execute advanced searches across a wide range of data, retrieving only the information that is relevant to their needs. An 'alerting' facility makes users aware whenever news or share price movements occur for specified companies."



UK Plus

www.ukplus.co.uk

The UK Plus service claims to be a "one-stop solution to information overload", and states as its two main tasks, "to list everything worth listing for UK users of the world wide web, and to review everything worth reviewing". The service is based on a database containing thousands of site reviews.



NUA

www.nua.ie

This Irish company states its focus as "helping progressive organisations adapt to the new environment created by the internet". Some of the resources it offers include 'What's New', its monthly newsletter, and 'New Thinking', a weekly email column "whose objective is to contribute to a practical philosophy for the Digital Age". 'NUA Choice' is an "information resource for the busy manager".



MediaTel

www.mediatel.co.uk

This company is "the online UK media news and information database". Its database services include 'Newsline', with access to current news stories, and its 'Press Database', which covers "over 3,500 titles organised by category/type/ editorial content". It also has an 'Internet Search' facility and media net community, 'Media Village'.



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